When it comes to advocating for the rights of marginalized groups, it seems to always fall to members of said group to do all the fighting for their equality, and that’s not equal. Of course, unless you are a member of a marginalized group you have no experience of the challenges they face, and may miss the more subtle inequalities altogether, so those at a disadvantage must inevitably always be a part of the conversations and activities to fight the prejudice they face. However, making someone entirely responsible for their own rights is overly-demanding, ineffective, and dehumanising.
Before we go any further, I need to make one point crystal clear; leaving marginalized groups out of the discussions of their own rights is a recipe for disaster. Including us as a token gesture but refusing to hear us is equally disastrous. When people make decisions concerning accessibility without consulting anyone disabled, you end up with this. Why not just sanction off that part of the stairs to have as a lift all the time? That can be used by a disabled person who doesn’t need someone else to materialise out of nowhere to operate it for them?
Of course, if we complain, we’re ungrateful.
We NEED to be a valued part of the team, but as with any team, it shouldn’t fall to a select few to do the work of the entire group. If you’re wondering why we don’t all just band together to form a team large enough to do all of the work ourselves, keep reading.
Frequently, disabled people find that the onus for their accessibility needs is placed on them. It is expected that we alert people prior to the event that we will need certain resources, forcing us to disclose personal information and ensuring that we can never be spontaneous by doing so. If we fail to notify someone, access that ought to have been provided by default is denied us altogether. This sets us up for an inevitable unconscious bias, leaving us at a distinct disadvantage in job interviews, something I know all too well. Similarly, the fact that stair-climbing wheelchairs are still being developed and promoted to disabled people is a prime example of how, instead of a company paying to put in a ramp that would benefit everyone, a sub-set of disabled people are expected to pay an extortionate fee for a dodgy, unnecessary product, and the rest are excluded altogether (news flash: ramps aren’t just for wheelchairs).
Access to gender neutral bathrooms is another issue that only ever seems to fought for by those who need them. In the workplace, this might mean that someone who already has a job that takes up all of their contracted hours, is expected to liaise with different departments to create such a space. This isn’t in their job description, so cannot be verified in future job applications, and means that their actual role is done less efficiently and effectively. This is naturally bad for business, but all too often the blame is placed on the single employee trying to do two jobs at the same time, and not on the lack of equality in the workplace. Many companies even have specific jobs created for this very purpose, so that someone can focus all of their time and energy on workplace inequality issues, yet somehow the same trend of those at a disadvantage having to fight their own fight sometimes persists. Of course, any results aren’t then credited to the one doing the work, but the official representation, adding insult to injury.
On top of the excessive demands this situation puts on marginalised groups, the actual outcome of their efforts may also be less than desired. This is quite simply because unless it is something they have personally experienced, what someone else describes as discriminatory is often dismissed. I cannot count the number of people who have told me, the disabled person, that something blatantly ableist was not ableist at all, and that I was mistaken about my own experience. This seems to be a universal experience for all marginalized groups, and if the issues raised are dismissed, they cannot be resolved. Taken in conjunction with that fact that those with more authority are less likely to come from said groups means that, when advocating for their own rights because no one will help, the authority to get things done is lacking.
When all is said and done, having your struggles dismissed as inconsequential, and having to work twice as hard for half the payoff, is dehumanising. Burning the candle at both ends takes its toll, and the lack of empathy shown by those with privilege will degrade your faith in humanity until nothing is left. It’s bad for physical health, it’s bad for mental health, and it hinders progress.
It shouldn’t take the worlds’ most brilliant minds to figure out that there is a balance to be struck in this situation. The valuable contributions of real-world experience should be paired with time, resources, and authority, and while the road to equality will still be difficult, everyone will be happier. No one is over-worked or distracted from their role, no one feels degraded and thus less motivated to contribute, and no one feels like their time and effort has been wasted.
Don’t believe me? You’ve just read a blog post written, edited, recorded, published, and advertised by someone advocating for disabled and LGBTQAI+ rights who has a full-time job in medical research, who also happens to fund the entire project with their own money.